A woman’s place.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Roshanara Begum lies buried in the ruins of this 17th century pavilion. Her own brother—Mughal emperor Aurangzeb—sentenced her to death after she was discovered with eight men at her apartment in the Red Fort harem. The irony is that the princess had sided with this brother when he rebelled against their father Shahjahan and the heir anointed, Dara Shikoh, to usurp the throne.
While the official Mughal chronicles have kept her out from the principal narrative, Roshanara Begum has been shown more generosity in other versions. In his book The Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India, American historian Waldemar Hansen describes her as “a fiendishly vindictive Salome demanding Dara’s blood, gloating over her father’s imprisonment, choking with hatred of her eldest sister, and indulging in furious hair-pulling contest with Aurangzeb’s wife.”
Such a colorful sketch bears no resemblance to the straight austere lines of Roshanara’s pavilion; the only embellishment seems to be the desolate-looking stone chattris standing atop each of the four corners. Built as the princess’s summer retreat just outside Shahjahanabad, the building was the centerpiece of a garden; a less orderly version of that garden exists to this day.
“In spite of all she had done to get her brother made king,” wrote the famous Italian traveler Niccolao Manucci of Roshanara Begum, “she herself experienced his cruelty, dying swollen out like a hogshead and leaving behind her a name of great lasciviousness.”
Not well said at all–what is needed now is a post-modern interpretation of the princess’s life, and by a feminist perhaps.
Curiously, there is no grave inside the rectangular hall. A narrow strip of recessed earth is considered to be the exact burial place. Hemmed in by an enclosure of crumbling latticework, the chamber looks to the sky.
In the evening, boys play cricket outside the pavilion, and Roshanara Begum is left to herself.
Where Roshanara Garden, Near Ghantaghar, North Delhi Nearest Metro Station Vishwavidyalaya Time Morning to Evening